Musings, Nits, and Praises: April 2007

Musings, Nits, and Praises

A farrago of all things deemed blog-worthy by a music-loving, poetry-writing, humor-seeking English teacher

The List

As I'd mentioned in my last post, before I purchase any new books for my summer reading binge, I have to tackle a few that have been collecting dust on the bookshelf since last summer. Right now I'm in the midst of finishing Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find. O'Connor mastered the short story genre as few other authors have. Once I finish with A Good Man, I'll be on to the following books:

Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - After I read One Hundred Years of Solitude a few years back, I decided I'd need to read some more Marquez.

All the Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy - I'm ready to tackle the Border Trilogy.

The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow - Henderson, the Rain King is one of my all-time favorite novels. (Thanks to Dr. Long for assigning it for American Novel class back in college.) When I read Herzog a few years later, I was a bit disappointed--it's a good novel, just not Henderson.

Next month I'll also be reading another author bio--Ralph Ellison: A Biography. I'll be contributing a review of the book to a local publication, The Main Street Journal, in June.

Summer Reading Comes Early

Ah, summer vacation. My time to sleep late, watch an inordinate amount of baseball, travel, and binge read. Well, summer vacation is still a little over a month away, but I've gotten a head start on my binge reading. Every year from mid-August to the end of May, I have every intention of reading some novels in addition to the ones I teach, but invariably I don't find the time. I'll go to a bookstore, spot a novel I've intended to read or someone has recommended I read, buy the novel, file the book on my bookshelf, and then think every few weeks, "Man, I really need to read that book."

Oh, sure, I could read several books during the course of the school year, reading a few chapters one night, squeezing in a few more a week later. But for me, dragging out the reading of a novel over several weeks or months ruins the reading experience. When I begin a novel, I like to finish it in two to three days, if not faster, not skipping a day of reading. To read a novel over a long period of time is like buying a new CD and taking a month to listen to the entire album. I don't like to read more than one novel at a time either. Now, I know some people who can juggle reading half a dozen books over several weeks, but I've never read that way.

I didn't manage to read much the past two summers--married in '05, took a lengthy road trip and moved last summer--so I decided to get a head start this year. (There are some books I bought two years ago that I'll finally get around to reading this summer.) With school still in session, I haven't hit my stride yet, but I've read three books in the past two weeks.

The Road - Cormac McCarthy --I've been a big fan of McCarthy ever since I read Blood Meridian. (It's a testament to the brilliance he displays in that novel that after you've read it you can think, "That may be the darkest, most disconcerting book I've ever read, and I loved it.") The Road isn't the work of art stylistically that Meridian is, but it's an undeniably arresting and moving book.

The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro -- a subtle, character-driven book that evokes laughter one moment and sadness the next

William Faulkner -Stephen B. Oates -- I don't read much non-fiction, but I enjoy biographies. Since Faulkner is my favorite author, I already knew quite a bit about him, but I learned plenty more after reading the book. Oates' style is enjoyable as well. It's not a dry, fact-by-fact story of Faulkner's life.


A friend of mine, Kester Smith, recently wrote a good post about doubt as part of our walk as Christians (a link to his blog is on the right side of my page). After reading his post, I had the idea to write a post comprised of questions that I've wrestled with at one time or another and probably will continue to. The questions are by no means unique to my life, as I know plenty of Christians and non-Christians who've asked the same things. So, here they are in no particular order:

- Why doesn't God make it easier for people to believe in Him? Specifically, why doesn't He reveal Himself more overtly in the world?

- Why does intercessory prayer for someone's health seem feckless so much of the time?

- If God is indeed the Loving Ultimate Creator, why does He allow so much pain in the world? Yes, I know a lot of pain in the world is man-made, but what about disease? I suppose one could offer Polkinghorne's idea of God allowing creation to develop freely. Polkinghorne's reasoning seems sound enough, but even if he's right, it's something I find hard to swallow. The idea strikes me as God saying, "Well, I'll let creation 'do it's own thing' and that's going to cause people a lot of suffering, but I don't want to crimp nature's fruitfulness, so I won't intervene."

- How would people victimized by disease and inexplicable suffering who were not raised in Christian families ever come to view God as a loving father?

- Why does death exist? Yes, I know our typical response to this is that death is the result of the fall of man (and certainly man has turned from God whether or not you take Genesis 3 literally or not), but given that death and disease was present in the world prior to man (and, yes, I'm basing that on science--I'm not a biblical literalist about creation), then why death? Sure, you could say it was a natural process, but for people, it's a natural process that causes suffering, if not for the one dying, then for his/her loved ones.

- Why do we assert that it's any more logical to believe that God has always existed than it is to believe that matter and energy have always existed?

- If Isreal did actually slaughter some of the people the OT says they did, why would God order such things? Did Israel just perpetrate atrocities in the name of God?

- How much, if any, of the OT patriarch stories are intended as historical accounts?

- Why are there no demonstrative (in the NT sense) miracles in the world today? Maybe there are some, but I've certainly never witnessed such things.

- How can "becoming a Christian changed my life" be a useful testament to the validity of our faith when adherents to other faiths can make similar claims?

- How "free" is our free will? I'm not a determinist by any means, but considering the effects genetics, upbringing, and environment have on our decision making, a "strong volitionist" view may not have a strong footing.

- More Christians are asserting that we do not possess an immortal soul. Some base their stance on their interpretation of scripture, others on neuroscience, and some on both. Although the lack of a soul would be irrelevant in regards to resurrection (a bodily resurrection isn't dependent upon a soul), how could free will be anything but an illusion without some sort of soul, immortal or otherwise?

- Some NT writers seem quite confident of Christ's return in the short term. Two thousand years later, He still hasn't returned. Are we misintepreting what they wrote? Were they just wishful thinkers? Is the whole idea just bunk?

- Would I be a Christian if church hadn't been part of my upbringing?

- Why are we so slow to recognize our own Pharisaical tendencies?

Well, I could add to the list for some time, but I'll stop. I'd like to hear some readers' takes on some of these questions.

I'll end by coming back to Kester's post. In his discussion he referenced the passage from Mark 9 where a man brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus to be healed. The man's statement to Christ--"I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief."--has long been one of the most poignant scriptures in all the Bible for me, not only because the man's plea is often my own, but because Christ doesn't turn away from him. He heals the man's son.

Lord, be patient with us. Renew our faith. Remind us of your faithfulness. Give us strength to follow you in spite of our doubts.

What a Horrible World We Can Make It

I have nothing even remotely articulate to say at this point about the shootings at Virginia Tech.

Then, as I was chatting with a friend in Little Rock this afternoon, he informed me that the sister-in-law of a fellow we know from college was tortured and raped in New York:

Tied-up Columbia student left to die used fire set by creep to free herself


Monday, April 16th 2007, 4:00 AM

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Tied up and left to die in a burning apartment, a Columbia student used the blaze set by her sadistic rapist to free herself, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said yesterday.

"It appears she was able to escape as a result of the fire," Kelly said. "She was tied, and the flame was used by her to break the bond."

The 23-year-old woman, identified by sources as a student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, endured 19 hours of rape and torture at the hands of a sick creep in her Hamilton Heights apartment Friday night.

In what Kelly called a "particularly vicious" assault, the fiend tied his victim to a bed, cut her, raped her, burned her with scalding water and chemicals - and then set the woman's futon on fire to cover up the crime, police said.

He was so brutal he slit her eyelids, Kelly said.

The student used the flames to free herself and fled her fifth-floor apartment with her hands still bound to each other to get help from a neighbor, officials said.

The woman remains hospitalized in serious but stable condition.

Cops yesterday were combing through surveillance video for images of the attacker, who followed the woman into her building near City College at 9:30 p.m.

Kelly said detectives were looking to see if there was any evidence the rapist had attacked before, but said, "It does not appear right now to be part of a pattern."
One man said he saw the victim in the basement of the building shortly after she escaped.

"She just kept saying, 'I've been raped,' " said Ronald Ward, 19, who spotted the fire and ran downstairs for help, where he found the building's superintendent, Carl Peroune, trying to soothe the woman as they waited for an ambulance.
"She was down there crying," Ward said.

Police were hunting for the attacker, described as a bald, 6-foot-1, 180-pound black man in his 30s with a goatee and a scar on his abdomen.

Several residents of the woman's six-story Hamilton Terrace building, located on a quiet treelined block of neat rowhouses, said she had moved in within the last two months.

"I've been living in this building 30 years, and nothing like this ever happened," said another resident, Teddy Perkins, 55. "This is real shocking."

The Grapes of Wrath and the Crux of Christ's Call

Some recent reading I've done concerning our call as Christians in the world--Irresistible Revolution, Simply Christian, and a friend's blog--really enriched my experience with The Grapes of Wrath as I started teaching the novel this week. Steinbeck, as most other Modern writers, rejected organized religion as a way to establish meaning in the modern world. (The Moderns' reasons for such a view are many, but for the purpose of this post, I'm going to stick to Steinbeck's main objection in The Grapes of Wrath.) In the novel, Jim Casy, the preacher who would stir women into a religious frenzy one moment and sleep with them the next, personifies the hypocrisy and superficiality Steinbeck saw in organized religion and demonstrates its inadequacy to offer purpose to modern people. But Casy also becomes a mouthpiece for Steinbeck, explaining to Tom Joad that he came to believe that the Holy Spirit was really just the human spirit--a need for connection and love between people. For Steinbeck, those things, not a set of rules or a "pie in the sky" doctrine, speak to the needs of people as they scrape and struggle their way through the world.

His indictment of organized religion (particularly Christianity) in his time is equally as fitting in our time. Connecting with people through love and compassion is at the heart of Christ's call, yet for Steinbeck there was as much a dearth of those qualities from Christianity as there was rain from the Dust Bowl. Sadly, I don't know that much has changed about Christianity in our country since Steinbeck's time. If we aren't about sacrificing ourselves in loving, compassionate ways for the people we encounter, then we're not about following Christ. A superficial, hypocritical, or "do not"-driven faith has nothing to offer to the world in our time or any other.

I'll end this post as I've done before:

Father, fill us with your Spirit. Transform our hearts and minds into a likeness of Christ. May the fruits of our actions be sweet nourishment for the suffering, the searching, and the lonely, not something bitter or rancid they spit out. May we love with abandon.

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